Neunundneunzig Luftballons (in meinem Weg)

When I was training, a group of fellow students and I made a dance which had dozens of helium balloons as a set. We went the whole hog and hired an industrial cylinder of helium with which to fill our coloured balloons. In addition, we purchased yards of ribbon and many pairs of white socks to tie them to, which kept the floating balloons loosely in place in the studio while allowing them to be knocked around by our dancing bodies.

For a student piece, it was a really rather beautiful set, the multicoloured balloons swaying and bobbing in the sunlight like some kind of mad lollipop-forest. And in the dress rehearsal the concept worked well – as we moved through the piece, our limbs and torsos swept some balloons aside, gathered others, and left visible traces in the mobile set like a trail through the balloon-forest. Everyone who saw the rehearsal agreed it looked “really cool”.

Unfortunately, when it came to the performance, we over-egged it with the balloons a bit and stuck them in just about every available inch of studio space. Now, instead of leaving a pretty trail through the balloons like the wake of a boat or vapour from an aeroplane, everybody just got tangled up in the ribbons. The wretched things didn’t sculpt the movement anymore, they just got in the way. A certain number of balloons, we learned, accentuates the movement profile with its gentle echo of what has travelled through; too many balloons just makes a damned mess of your choreography.

All of which preamble is by way of saying: when those large, silver, pillow-shaped balloons kept getting in the way of the Rambert dancers tonight, I probably sympathised more than most members of the audience.

Balloons and some slightly annoyed dancers, yesterday.

My excuse for the balloon error is, of course, that I was a student at the time. Merce’s excuse is, I suppose, that it was 1968 at the time. Either way, you never find out if something works unless you try.

But trust me on the balloons.

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